Accounts payable provides a critical service to organizations. It is one of the few departments that touches every department within a company as well as external parties, and has a direct impact on the reputation of the organization.
Accounts payable is unique in that many types of customers rely on outputs from its processes. Two critical customers of AP are internal clients and vendors. In some AP organizations internal customers are treated as fellow employees and not customers, and vendors as suppliers and not strategic business partners. But, an AP best practice is to treat the customers that AP serves as just that — customers. After all, you don’t want any of your customers to harm AP’s reputation or take their business elsewhere. The growth of AP outsource providers has provided a competitive factor for in-house AP departments, sometimes resulting in an outsourced environment.
In November 2015 Financial Operations Networks and InvoiceInfo conducted a survey on AP Customer Service Best Practices. The survey looked at how organizations handle invoice inquiries, vendor onboarding, customer service metrics and self-service portals. The survey results reveal challenges, best practices, processes and tips for improved customer experiences.
- When asked how AP customer service is handled, 46% responded that AP staff takes turns answering inquiries and 19% have a dedicated team to answer inquiries.
- The most common inquiries received are about payment and approval of invoices.
- The majority (55%) does not have a customer service policy stating how long staff has to research and turn around a response to inquiries.
- Of those that do have a policy, the majority (59%) of these policies require response within one day.
- Only 11% of participants track customer service inquiries. Those who do measure track how many invoices are inquired upon, average length of inquiry calls or email responses and average and fully weighted cost of an AP staffer handling inquiries.
- Only 16% of participants responded that they have a vendor self-service portal to handle invoice inquiries and the main reason they have one is to reduce phone calls and emails.
- The clear majority (68%) believes that invoice inquiries from vendors and internal staff are distracting for AP staff members.
- For those participants that currently have a portal, 35% have a standalone vendor portal application and 31% have a module that is part of their current ERP system.
- Tracking customer service metrics is not that popular among survey participants. For those that do have a portal, only 32% track how satisfied their customers are with it. Of those, 72% are extremely satisfied.
- Only 35% of the survey participants that have implemented a portal track to what degree automation has reduced the number of vendor and internal inquiries.
- For those participants who do not currently have a portal, 46% have no plans to implement one, while 21% are considering a portal within the next two to five years and 15% are looking to implement one within the next year.
- The majority (77%) of participants believe that an online self-service portal can deliver the same or better customer service as a live person.